Ulcerative colitis belongs to a group condition known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It affects the innermost lining of the large intestine, resulting in inflammation and ulcers (sores) in the rectum, and it may also affect the colon. Symptoms typically appear gradually in most people and include urgent and cramping diarrhea, which may be bloody. These symptoms may occasionally cause the patient to get up at night to use the restroom.
Ulcerative colitis is typically classified by healthcare professionals based on its location, even though the symptoms of each type can overlap. The classifications include:
- Ulcerative proctitis: Ulcerative proctitis refers to inflammation that is limited to the rectum, which is the area closest to the anus. Rectal bleeding may be the primary symptoms of this disease.
- Pancolitis: This kind typically affects the entire colon and can result in episodes of severe bloody diarrhea as well as stomach pain, exhaustion, and significant weight loss.
- Proctosigmoiditis: The lower end of the colon, the sigmoid colon, and the rectum are both affected by inflammation. The signs include painful and bleeding stomach cramps as well as an inability to urinate despite strong urges. This is also referred as Tenesmus.
- Left-sided colitis: The rectum and the sigmoid and descending parts of the colon are all inflamed. Bloody diarrhea, left side abdominal pain and cramps, and a strong urge to urinate are all symptoms.
Ulcerative colitis can be a draining illness that has the potential to cause life-threatening complications. Although a cure for this condition is not yet known, several innovative treatments have emerged that can substantially alleviate the symptoms and lead to long-term remission.
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis may differ depending on the location and severity of the inflammation. Some of the signs and symptoms that may be present are:
- Diarrhea or urgency in bowel movement
- Rectal bleeding, or passing some blood with stools
- Abdominal pain and cramps
- Rectal pain
- Unable to pass stool even with urgency
- Weight loss
- Fatigue or tiredness
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis in children may include delayed or poor growth, which are similar to those in pediatric ulcerative colitis. Other conditions can also show similar symptoms in children, so it is crucial to inform the pediatrician about all symptoms.
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis are typically mild to moderate in most individuals. The condition’s course can vary, and some people may experience periods when it goes into remission, which means it goes away for a while.
If you notice changes in your bowel habits that last for a long time or experience any of the following symptoms, it is important to see your healthcare provider:
- Stomach pain
- Blood in your stool
- Diarrhea that does not get better with over the counter medications
- Diarrhea that wakes you up at night
- A fever that you cannot explain and lasts for more than a day or two.
It is still unclear what exactly causes ulcerative colitis. Stress and diet were previously suggested that causes the disease. Certain elements may worsen ulcerative colitis but do not actually cause disease.
Immune system malfunction may be one of the causes. The immune system attacks the cells in the digestive tract when it attempts to combat an invasive virus or bacteria due to an abnormal immunological response that causes inflammation and tissue damage.
Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that heredity plays a role in the development of ulcerative colitis. However, it should be noted that not all individuals who have the disease have a family history of it.
Ulcerative colitis affects about the same number of women and men. Risk factors may include:
- Age: Although it can happen at any age, ulcerative colitis typically starts before the age of 30. Some people might not experience symptoms until they are older than 60.
- Family history: An individual’s risk of developing the disease is higher if they have a close relative, such as a parent, sibling, or child, who has also been diagnosed with the condition.
- Race or ethnicity: Although the disease can affect persons of any race, white people are at the most risk for it. One’s risk is increased if they are an Ashkenazi Jew.